Reasons to Believe

Animals in the Spotlight

In early elementary school I developed distaste for reading. To remedy the situation, my parents bought books suited to my interests—principally, animals. I willingly devoured Zoobooksmagazines, curled up with girl-and-her-horse novels, and thumbed through a well-loved copy of a mammal encyclopedia. Although my literary tastes

Me and my husband with a trio of feathered friends.

expanded over the years, even today few things will catch my attention faster than an animal.

And it seems the animal kingdom has been garnering some attention in popular science news as well.

Over the last week or two, RTB scholars Fuz Rana and Hugh Ross have hopped into the recording studio several times to record comments on recent discoveries involving elephant toes, beaver dams, and a new shark species.

  • Elephants’ Sixth “Toe”: For centuries, elephants’ extra digit puzzled scientists. Now extensive research shows that the toe first appeared about 40 million years ago when elephantine animals began growing in size and transitioning to land-based habitats. The question is does this finding support evolution or creation?

Fuz weighed in on this discussion on the December 29, 2011episode of Science News Flash (SNF). He points out that similar extra digits appear in pandas and moles—leading to the conclusion that this is yet another example of convergence, the independent and repetitious appearance of shared characteristics among unrelated organisms.

We would not expect evolution, as a random, unguided process, to be capable of reproducing designs. Yet convergence abounds in nature (echolocation in dolphins and bats is another prominent example). Such instances, Fuz says, better fit within a creation model, where an intelligent Creator makes repeated used of His designs as would a human engineer.

  • Busy Beavers: It might surprise people to learn how many ways beavers have impacted life in North America. It certainly astounded me when I listened to Hugh’s December 30, 2011 SNF episode. Thanks to ground-penetrating radar readings from orbiting satellites, researchers discovered that the once-abundant beaver dams throughout North Americaexerted substantial influence over subterranean sediment buildups.

That’s a pretty big impact by itself, but Hugh takes beavers’ importance a step or two further. As a Canadian, he has a special appreciation for the way the beaver fur trade supported his home country’s early economy. However, as an animal lover, Hugh notes that furriers definitely overhunted beavers to the detriment of Canada and America’s wetland ecosystems. He explains that beavers are vital to removing nitrogen from water. Too much nitrogen creates dead spaces where fish cannot flourish. Areas like Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico currently face nitrogen’s negative effects. Looks like a restoration of beaver populations may be in order!

  • New Shark on the Block: Say “hybrid” and most people probably think “Prius.” But nature is not without hybrids of its own. Recent research revealed theunexpected existence of a new shark. Hybrid animals are not unheard of (think mules or, if you’re Napoleon Dynamite, ligers)—but this cross between common blacktip and Australian blacktip sharks stands out. Not only is it the first known shark hybrid, it’s also fertile and shows signs of being more robust than its progenitors. Scientists suspect changing climate conditions may be responsible for this development.

The animal is being touted as “evolution in action”—and it is. As Fuz points out on the first SNF of 2012, this shark hybrid is an example of microevolution. Through adaptation and speciation, organisms adjust to changing environments and new challenges in order to survive. The peppered moth and Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches are textbook examples.

So do these types of evolution tip the scales in favor of naturalism? Hardly. Fuz notes that there is a big difference between microevolution and the theory that mindless evolution has the creative capacity to produce radically different animals from previous creatures. Discoveries like the hybrid shark make better sense if a Creator endowed His creations with the ability to adapt.

From a layperson’s perspective, it seems a stretch to assume that relatively small adjustments (microevolution), like the elephant’s sixth toe and the hybrid shark, automatically implies large-scale adjustments (macroevolution), like dinosaurs evolving into birds or ape-like creatures into human beings.

When God confronts Job, He points to various animals as examples of His power and glory. Indeed, a visit to the zoo, or even a moment with my pet rabbit, always puts me in awe of God. I can see why Paul wrote in Romans that no man is without excuse because the multifaceted natural world so clearly testifies to God’s existence and His character.

— Maureen

Resources: Are you like me and can’t get enough of animals? Check out Hugh’s latest book, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, for an intriguing look at how animals point us toward our mutual Creator.

Subjects: Life Design